Flying the flag — how to haul an open portaledge
If you’ve climbed a big wall, you’ve endured countless hours crammed in a belay seat, feeding out rope at a snail’s pace while your partner inches up sections of tenuous aid. Impatience sets in. Your back hunches further, and your knees go numb. You want your partner to finish the pitch just so you can get a move on and find a new patch of rock at which to stare. A six-hour hanging belay may be boring (OK, really boring), but it doesn’t have to painful. With proper technique and a little caution, you can safely haul your portaledge while it’s open. By not breaking down the portaledge — saving yourself time and effort — you’ll be able to access it quickly, and kick back in style and comfort at any belay. If you don’t haul an open ledge properly, however, it’ll be torn to shreds by the wall or whipped wildly about by the wind. To rig your open portaledge for the haul, first clip one corner of the ledge into the haul line while the leader pulls it tight. Now, clip the risers into the haul line; doing so keeps them from twisting and tangling. Slide the portaledge up the line lengthwise, then clip the bottom corner of the ledge into the haulbag knot at the bottom of the haul line. Securing your ledge to the bottom of the haul line will ensure that a sudden updraft doesn’t send it whirling out of control up the line. If you clip the corners lengthwise onto the haul line, the portaledge will rotate with the wind (like a flag on a pole), not entangle itself with every strap, rope, and climber nearby. You’ll also gain peace of mind by rigging the ledge such that it’s secured by three separate points when transferring it on and off the haul line. Use common sense when employing this “flag” technique. If you’re climbing The Shield on El Cap, for instance, hauling the ledge open on the approach slabs will surely shred it; wait until the rock steepens above the Shield Roof and you’ll be able to haul it open until the summit pitch. On my last trip up El Cap, via Iron Hawk, we borrowed a friend’s double ledge and hauled it open for five days without giving it so much as a scratch. If you and your partner are using single portaledges, break one down in the morning and keep the other open for belays. If you have three people and want to keep two ledges open, clip them together when you attach them to the haul line. Keeping two ledges open can turn into a cluster (especially with the risers), but it’s worth the trouble if you’re planning on a lengthy belay — you’ll be free to tuck in and get cozy with your Grigri. By the time your partner makes it to the end of his pitch, you won’t want to leave.